BAGHDAD, IRAQ, NOV. 26 -- President Saddam Hussein said today that "large numbers" of Iraqis had died because of shortages of food and medicine in the country.

No specific death count was given, but Saddam's remark was the strongest indication to date that U.N. sanctions imposed on Iraq following its invasion of Kuwait were taking their toll.

"If we go to hospitals and ask for lists, we will find that we are faced with large numbers of people who died because of the lack of food and medicine," Saddam said on state television during a meeting with relatives of three American men held hostage by Iraq and whom he freed today.

Diplomats knew the names of only two of the three -- Fred Harrington of Bellevue, Wash., and John Stevenson. "We feel fantastic because we are going home. We met with the president, and he is a very nice man," said Stevenson's twin sister, Mary Trundy, of Brockton, Mass.

About 700 Americans are still in Iraq and Kuwait, including an estimated 102 held at military and industrial facilities as "human shields."

Also today, Iraq's National Assembly voted to free all Swedish hostages. The decision, which was opposed by 15 members of the 250-seat house, followed a decision last week to allow all German nationals to go home.